Astral Dawn by Adam R. Brown
Quick description: Fascinating world-building and ideas, but plot moved slowly and I wanted more plot twists
How I found this book: I’m friends with the president of “Authors Large and Small,” a wonderful book publicity firm that helps a lot of independent authors. She posted about her client’s book on her Facebook and the description was so intriguing that I volunteered to be a reviewer.
This book is not for everyone: but fans of Mark Twain’s story, “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven,” or Terry Pratchett’s book Small Gods, will likely find this book to their taste.
The author has invented an elaborate fictional heavenly realm, which his main character Caspian Knoll explores in his dreams. The world is populated by “light spirits,” basically deceased humans who have achieved enlightenment. Some of the light spirits act like gods and goddesses to various cultures throughout history, drawing strength from their worshipers. (All the gods and goddesses in the book are based on real figures from different world mythologies.)
The main character is African-American, and the cast of characters actually reflects the true diversity of Earth’s population. I dislike how in mainstream fiction non-white characters tend to be stereotyped or relegated the side kick slot. So I thought it was very refreshing to read some fiction where the tables were turned and the whites were the side-characters! The writing uses idiomatic expressions but translates them. For example, at one point Caspian describes something as a “phat crib” and the author adds in parentheses (“beautiful house.”)
I was frustrated with the pacing of this book, which was much longer than it needed to be. I tended to skim through the fight scenes because they were described in such painstaking detail they just became boring to me. Also the plot was your standard good vs. evil “Chosen One,” plot– the most common plot in fantasy fiction. However even though the plot wasn’t terribly gripping, the world itself was very original and interesting and kept me reading.
The idealistic aspect of this book: The author had an amazing visual metaphor to get across the idea that we all have a dark side that we can overcome. In the book, when light spirits become overwhelmed with anger, hate, or pain, they basically “hulk out” and become dark spirits. So, in the divine realm, when the main character becomes consumed with angry memories about his abusive father, he transforms from an attractive light spirit, into a fire-breathing six-winged black lion bigger than an elephant! With some help from his friends and the power of love, he manages to get his dark power under control and transform back into himself.
Given that dark spirits can be redeemed, I was somewhat put off by the way the light spirits viciously slaughter the dark spirits that invade their realm. In fact, the main character questions this practice, and he gets brushed off with some bullshit, “These ones are too far gone to save.” I hope the sequel explores these themes further…. and exposes the hypocrisy of the light spirits in abandoning the value of forgiveness!